The John Bishop Show review: ‘a 70s variety show throwback’

This unapologetically, even proudly, retro venture sees Paul Weller, comedians, and a beatboxer topped off with the wit of Trevor Noah, who turns the joke on us

There were a couple of big television events over the weekend – the FA Cup final and the Britain’s Got Talent final – neither of which, because of old-fashioned print deadlines, will be featuring in this column. This is more about the less essential TV you probably didn’t see. I’m not saying this column isn’t essential, but … well, if you were to take a break from it, for ONE DAY ONLY, mind, today could be that day.

Still here? Ahh, thank you x. The John Bishop Show (BBC1, Saturday) then, a new Saturday-night variety show. I had to check the calendar to make sure it wasn’t the 1970s. Not that John’s pretending it is not a throwback; in the title sequence he drives a Mark III Ford Cortina (haven’t they aged well?) through town to the Hackney Empire, where this is filmed. It is unapologetically, even proudly, retro. And maybe variety does have a new momentum, it’s what Britain’s Got Talent is after all.

So, there’s an acrobatic act to start, and John ends up with a small boy on his head – which segues seamlessly into his own standup act. He couldn’t do that (have a kid on his head) any more, at home, because his own three boys have got too big. That – having three big boys in the house – is the theme of the routine; it’s observational, familial, warm. And the audience laughs, generously, warmly.

Next, a man sings a song. Paul Weller, in fact, so quite a high level of singing man. And hasn’t he aged well, too? I don’t love the song though, it’s a new one. I think he sang better ones in the 1970s. And there are a couple more comedians – James Acaster, who riffs on infinite wishes and oven gloves; and Felicity Ward, who does jokes about Australians being racists, which she can because she is one (Australian).

Beatboxer Beardyman is good. He gets a song title from the audience: You Never Listen to Me. And a style from John: 1980s (steady John, isn’t that, like, the future?). Then makes a very convincing song out of it. It could almost be the Style Council. Still a bit vintage, then, but Beardyman does bring the whole thing more up to date, something for the YouTube generation.

The best comes last, though: South African comedian Trevor Noah. He starts on immigration, border control, the problems he has, as an African, getting into this country; then he turns it on its head, into the story of colonialism and the British empire. It’s smarter, more political, than I’ve-got-big-boys-in-my-house. The audience still laughs (it is very funny, and Trevor does funny accents, too), but is there just a hint of collective nervousness in the laughter, because they know – we know – that the joke is now on us. Has The John Bishop Show finally found an edge?

It’s Trevor Noah who’s taking over from Jon Stewart as The Daily Show host in the US, of course. A very hard act to follow, and a brave choice, given that Trevor’s not American, but I think he’s going to be OK. Oh, and then Paul Weller sings another song, from the 1990s this time. I still prefer the Jam.

Magic next, in The Magic Show Story (ITV, Saturday). And, again, there’s a BGT connection, with Darcy Oake from last year’s competition and this year’s Jamie Raven conjuring up fresh interest in illusionists. Here Stephen Mulhern – of Britain’s Got More Talent, also a magician – looks fondly back over 60 years of screen magic. From David Nixon, through Tommy Cooper’s clownery, Paul Daniels, sparkly suits, sawing ladies in half (boo – leave ladies in one piece), Americans, Copperfield, Penn, Teller, Blaine, back here and the actual Antichrist (Derren Brown), right up to Dynamo and magic for the YouTube generation (there they are again).

Stephen gets to visit his boyhood hero Daniels at the riverside home he shares with Debbie McGee and their rabbits (the last two, maybe, to come out of hats, in the early 90s?). Paul was christened Newton Daniels – I never knew that. Interesting decision to change his name; hmm, which is a better name for a great television magician: Newton or Paul? Maybe if he’d stayed as Newton Daniels he’d still be on the telly today.

One little moan – a musical one. Bad choice of track to accompany the bit about US acts doing well over here. It might sound American, but Pick Up the Pieces by the Average White Band is the opposite: a British song that did well over there. Otherwise, a nice enough show, but no one’s reading any more anyway are they, la la la.


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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